Inmates learn horticulture at Utah County Jail

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    By James Martin

    Earlier this month in the jail”s recently expanded four-acre garden, inmates began planting 900 peppers and more than 1,000 tomato plants. The inmates will be supplementing their own prison meals with the fresh harvest, as well donating the remainder of the crop to local food coalitions, churches and the United Way.

    Utah County Sheriff”s Deputy James Baldwin spends about 20 hours a week supervising and working with the inmates in the garden.

    “An idle inmate is much more likely to get himself into trouble,” Baldwin said. “So, the garden really helps these guys to be productive and stay out of trouble.”

    Only those inmates who exhibit good behavior in the prison are allowed to work in the garden, which is just a short bus ride away. Those locked up for violent crime are not afforded the opportunity.

    Although the inmates garden for free, they are permitted to eat all the fresh produce they want while they labor.

    “This way they are actually getting some fresh food rather than something canned by Sysco,” Baldwin said. “The first comment I often hear from new inmates when they get out to the garden is, ”This is the best thing I”ve done in my life.””

    The vegetable garden is estimated to cost between $1,500 and $2,000 a year. Many of the plants are donated by local businesses. Baldwin says the garden actually pays for itself because the food grown there replaces some of the food the jail would otherwise have to purchase for daily meals.

    Dennis Harris, the director of Jail Industries, started the gardening program 3 years ago.

    “I wanted to create a way to get our guys outside and actually work,” he said. “The garden helps them get their work ethic in check and ready for the outside world.”

    Harris said the results have been better than anyone expected.

    “Having the inmates actually put their hands in the dirt has taken care of a lot of problems these guys have,” he said. “It has proven to be the best therapy we could have imagined.”

    Adrian Hinton, who volunteers at the garden and acts as the jail”s horticulture expert, said the garden was a tremendous success last year and they are looking forward to even more success in 2006.

    The garden yielded about 20 tons of vegetables last year, a portion of which was donated to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina disaster who were transplanted to Utah Valley.

    The jail also has a transitional work program allowing inmates to work outside the jail at local businesses. Eighty percent of their income goes back to the jail and 20 percent goes to the inmate. Some inmates even work a full day at a local business then volunteer the remainder of the day in the jail garden.

    “We feel the public demands that these guys get off their butts and be productive contributors to society,” Harris said.

    A new division of Jail Industries has recently been added that gives inmates opportunities to labor in public works. They can mow lawns, dig holes or do any number of jobs that offset costs to the taxpayer.

    “These are some of the reasons why taxes aren”t going up,” Harris said.

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